Cannes's finest five minutes
Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy moves 'from her usual near-dead torpor' and takes a vigorous 'knife and fork to every stray piece of scenery'.
THE PAPERBOY Directed by Lee Daniels Starring Zac Efron, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Macy Gray101 min, playing in competition
We wish no disrespect to Lee Daniels, but little of the attention that gathered around his Oscar-winning Precious concerned the film’s direction.
Everyone was talking about Push, its source novel written by Sapphire, about the performances by Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique. There was, however, no doubt that Daniels had his own singular aesthetic: all that glassy photography and artfully artificial sets.
Daniels certainly makes something memorable of his adaptation of Pete Dexter’s acclaimed crime novel. The film is fired-up with a Southern gothic that often risks teetering into the absurd, but which ensures that we are never likely to doze off. The screen seems soaked in humidity. Nicole Kidman gets to play (or so it appears) a character from a particularly steamy Mexican telenovela. Yes indeed. Mr Daniels is not to be ignored.
We begin with a voiceover from (even before we see her face) an unmistakable Macy Gray. Playing the former maid in a middle-class Floridian home, the husky singer details the background to a notorious crime. In the 1960s, a sinister hick (John Cusack) was jailed for the murder of an archetypically insensitive sheriff. But suspicions abounded that the conviction was insecure. Matthew McConaughey plays a journalist returning home to investigate the case. Zac Efron plays his brother. Wearing clothes from another, funkier planet, a thickly made-up Kidman essays a woman who has fallen in love with the killer after corresponding with him in prison.
Daniels doesn’t know when to lay off the dazzle. We get split-screen for no good reason. The cinematography strays a little too far into mannered graininess. He allows Ms Kidman to move from her usual near-dead torpor and take vigorous knife and fork to every stray piece of scenery.
It’s all rather good fun. But the story eventually becomes overpowered by the bouncing-in-the-red acting, dazzling visuals and outbursts of technical jiggery-pokery. By the close, it’s hard to care about who did what to whom and why. Still, Mr Daniels has certainly made it clear that he’s here for the duration.
POST TENEBRAS LUX Directed by Carlos Reygadas Starring Adolfo Jimenez Castro, Natalia Acevedo, Willebaldo Torres, Rut Reygadas, Eleazar Reygadas120 mins, playing in competition
Lately, out in the Twitterverse and Blogoshpere, there’s been a dangerous escalation of fanboy fascism. In-between burning books, a particular class of knucklehead likes to rail against critics and their “spoilers”. “You ruined The Avengers,” cries the new breed of narrative Nazi, “because you told everybody that The Hulk was in it.”
There’s no danger that anyone will make similar noises about Carlos Reygadas’s difficult fourth feature film. If anything, baffled viewers are likely to beg for spoilers. According to Post Tenebras Lux’s official literature, the plot runs thus: “Juan and his young urban family live in the countryside of Mexico. There, they enjoy and suffer a world that understands life in a different way. Juan wonders if those worlds are complementary or, truly, they fight unconsciously to eliminate one another.”
This may sound waywardly obtuse but it’s a damned sight more information than can be gleaned from watching the movie. Shot in a discombobulating 1:1.33 ratio through a fish-eye lens, Reygadas’s characteristically ravishing tableaux are boxed and refracted throughout. That may be just as well. We see quite enough of Juan (Castro), the film’s dog-beating, sex-addicted protagonist, to be getting along with.
Between surreal tangents – English schoolboys playing rugby, a glowing naked devil with a lunchbox – we eventually learn that he and his beautiful wife Natalia (Acevedo) live a privileged, artsy life in the Mexican countryside along with their two adorable pre-schoolers (the director’s own kids) and many animals. She serenades him with piano recitals and adorably off-key Neil Young songs; he bullies her about curtains and takes her to weird, infectious sauna orgies.
Not far away on the grounds, their staff, a gaggle of scruffy locals, live in prefabs and corrugated iron shanties. They’re all called odd nicknames, such as Glove, and invariably have family troubles. “I saw my drunken father having sex with my 15-year-old sister,” says one. “My kids are shitbags,” moans another.
Reygadas’s films – Japon, Battle in Heaven, Silent Light – have never been straightforward. They have, however, been tethered to stronger, clearer central narratives than Post Tenebras Lux.
It’s a shame that it doesn’t hang together; the opening sequence – a toddler out running among dogs, cows and horses in a thunderstorm – is the most beautiful five minutes of footage in the entire festival.
Light after darkness? We wish. - TARA BRADY